If Andy Murray is to have any chance of winning the French Open title this season, he must study Novak Djokovic’s performances at the Monte Caloe Masters last week and try to replicate that style.
Murray crashed out of Monaco in the third round after a dour performance against Stanislas Wawrinka led to a 6-1 6-2 defeat. It shocked Betfair French Open pundits and seriously unsteadied confidence in the world number two’s ability to mount a challenge at Roland Garros.
He made 24 unforced errors against Wawrinka and won just 25% of return points. That’s what cost him and if he performs like that again in Paris he will last two rounds at best.
No, what Murray needs to do is concentrate on his return game and not come to rely on those serves as much as he does on hard courts.
If he watches Djokovic’s final triumph over Rafael Nadal Murray will see that the Serb’s returns of serve won him the title. Djokovic had a worse first-serve percentage than Nadal but won 51% of his return points compared to Nadal’s 38%.
That ability to eke out rallies from nothing effectively earned Djokovic a break chance during each Nadal serve, so that Djokovic was a threat throughout the entire match.
Unlike matches on hard surfaces when the serve is so commanding it almost ruins the spectacle, clay gives the returnee a chance to stay in the point and that is where Djokovic beat his rival.
Murray is roughly the same height as Djokovic, is the same age and has the same playing style – mainly using powerful serves to pin opponents back and dominating proceedings from there.
If he replicates Djokovic’s return game then he should, theoretically, find similar success on clay.
Granted, Murray is unlikely to win the French Open this year – the field is simply too good – but he can go a lot further than the first week if he keeps his mind on his game and irons out those unforced errors on the return.
Despite the pessimism surrounding the Scot, pundits believe that he – not money – will inspire the next generation of tennis stars.